Tuesday, October 22, 2019

People Behind the Meeples - Episode 194: Zach W. Lorton

Welcome to People Behind the Meeples, a series of interviews with indie game designers.  Here you'll find out more than you ever wanted to know about the people who make the best games that you may or may not have heard of before.  If you'd like to be featured, head over to http://gjjgames.blogspot.com/p/game-designer-interview-questionnaire.html and fill out the questionnaire! You can find all the interviews here: People Behind the Meeples. Support me on Patreon!

Name:Zach W. Lorton
Location:Alton, Illinois -- just north of St. Louis, Missouri
Day Job:I work in media production for my church (graphic design, video creation & editing, social media), and as a DJ in the wedding industry on the weekends.
Designing:Two to five years.
Webpage:Zach W Lorton, Designer on BGG
Blog:Living on the Back Burner
YouTube:Zach Lorton
Find my games at:Patreon.com/backburnergames
Today's Interview is with:

Zach W. Lorton
Interviewed on: 10/8/2019

Zach Lorton is a designer who is fortunate enough to live in the St. Louis area, right in the backyard of some great board game companies, like Stonemaier Games, Grey Fox Games, and Miniature Market. This year his design for The Cutting Room Floor was a finalist in the Geekway to the West Game Design Contest and he has a number of other projects in the works. Keep your eye out for more of his games, and read on to learn more about Zach.

Some Basics
Tell me a bit about yourself.

How long have you been designing tabletop games?
Two to five years.

Why did you start designing tabletop games?
I wanted to play games that I found to be fun without being confusing. That, and sometimes you have an idea that you just absolutely have to get down on paper, or else you lose it.

What game or games are you currently working on?
I've been developing my first tabletop board game, The Cutting Room Floor, for a couple years. I also write roleplaying game content, producing something new every month for my backers on Patreon.

Have you designed any games that have been published?
Everything I've put out so far has been self-published.

What is your day job?
I work in media production for my church (graphic design, video creation & editing, social media), and as a DJ in the wedding industry on the weekends.

Your Gaming Tastes
My readers would like to know more about you as a gamer.

Where do you prefer to play games?
Wherever I can. With my work schedule, I can't get together with people as often as I'd like, so I also play quite a few solo games.

Who do you normally game with?
There are a couple groups of gamers I get together with on a somewhat regular basis. I help run a monthly game night out of my church, and there's another weekly game night I can only make once every other month. These people are a mix of casual gamers and hardcore strategy gamers.

If you were to invite a few friends together for game night tonight, what games would you play?
If a board game, any of the Tiny Epic line of games, Dead of Winter, Cosmic Encounter, Mars Open: Tabletop Golf, King of New York, Scoville. If a roleplaying game, Ten Candles, Fiasco, or any of my creations (I need playtesters!).

And what snacks would you eat?
Fruit like grapes, candies like M&Ms or Skittles, and maybe small deli sandwiches.

Do you like to have music playing while you play games? If so, what kind?
Music can be helpful to have in the background, but not all the time, and not for every game. For board games, I enjoy a mixture of rock, punk, metal, and alternative. For RPGs, I'd rather have background music that evokes the world in which we're playing.

What’s your favorite FLGS?
Otherside Comics & Games in Edwardsville, Illinois. It's a small joint, but they've got a pretty devoted group that meets for board gaming every Monday night, and if they don't have something in stock, they can get it for you.

What is your current favorite game? Least favorite that you still enjoy? Worst game you ever played?
My current favorite, only because I don't get to play it all that often, is Captain Sonar. A wonderful team vs. team game that, when played in real time, is a perfect challenge filled with tension and teamwork. I've not played a game that comes close to achieving this level of satisfaction from the cooperation of the players, regardless of whether you win or lose. For added fun, pull up a sonar ping sound effect while you're playing . . . it really immerses you in the game! Least favorite, but still enjoy? MegaStar, a small card game by Freidemann Friese. It's all about moving bands up and down the sales charts through a series of rounds -- you're playing cards to increase the artist's position, but then you also need to have those cards in your hand at the end of the game to score points, so it's an interesting act in balance. I like to hack this game to make it shorter than the rules state, because it becomes too repetitive after a bit, but I still like it. Never pass up a $2.00 game, folks -- you'll never know what design tips you can learn from it. Worst game? Quack in the Box. Way too long for what it is, completely unbalanced, and not really a fun theme.

What is your favorite game mechanic? How about your least favorite?
Favorite -- anything that involves dice rolling. I love rolling dice. Least favorite -- Hand management. I like playing games with this mechanic, but it can be frustrating at times.

What’s your favorite game that you just can’t ever seem to get to the table?
Quicksilver. It's a simple Victorian airship racing game, but it's almost too complex for most of my non-gaming family, and almost too simple for most of my gamer friends. For a roll-and-move game, it actually offers a lot of ways to mitigate poor rolls and interact with other players, so it's definitely not boring.

What styles of games do you play?
I like to play Board Games, Card Games, RPG Games

Do you design different styles of games than what you play?
I like to design Board Games, RPG Games

OK, here's a pretty polarizing game. Do you like and play Cards Against Humanity?

You as a Designer
OK, now the bit that sets you apart from the typical gamer. Let's find out about you as a game designer.

When you design games, do you come up with a theme first and build the mechanics around that? Or do you come up with mechanics and then add a theme? Or something else?
Theme almost always comes first for me. With The Cutting Room Floor, I wanted to create a game where the players were actually MAKING a movie, creating the film as the game went on. The mechanic of drafting cards from the cutting room floor (a film industry term for the editing room) came afterwards, and seemed to combine the best with the theme of building your movie. Plus, I hadn't played that many games where card drafting was the main mechanic, and choosing from bits of footage and story to piece together the movie you wanted just kind of begged for card drafting.

My other unrealized board game ideas have all started with the theme. Mechanics come second . . . so far.

Same thing with my RPG designs -- I focus on the idea of the theme or setting first, and then figure out how to best implement the idea. Do I create a new game with new mechanics, or do I develop the idea as a scenario to be used with an existing RPG system? The answers differ depending on the theme.

Have you ever entered or won a game design competition?
I entered The Cutting Room Floor into the Geekway to the West Game Design Contest in 2019, and was shocked to be one of the top 4 finalists. I didn't win, but got tremendous feedback from the players, and was informed by the judges that my game was the most fun game they'd played in the contest. Seeing as how this was my first design, it was a great shot of confidence to me, and it let me know that game has legs, and it has an audience. I just have to get it in front of them.

Do you have a current favorite game designer or idol?
I love Brian Suhre's games. He has a way of finding great puzzles to work with, and his games pop off the table in unique, compelling, and drawing ways. I'll never pass up the opportunity to test or play a Brian Suhre design.

Where or when or how do you get your inspiration or come up with your best ideas?
Anywhere . . . heck, EVERYWHERE. Sometimes I'll hear a phrase, and it will stick out in my head. At a recent company meeting, I heard, "We have some new additions today...", and I wrote down "New Additions". That idea eventually developed into an RPG called New Arrivals, where the players all play newborn babies trying to escape the maternity ward of a hospital. The most mundane things can be made to be fantastic with just a little imagination. Not only that, but they're often the most relatable, as well, and I want my designs to touch on those things that people already find familiar, but then turn them on their ears and take them in unexpected directions.

How do you go about playtesting your games?
This is where my design process falters, mostly because of my inability to gather with people to play as often as I'd like. So I playtest whenever I can, but not every time I can. It kind of depends on what kind of time I'll have available, who I'm playing with, etc. I do have a group of people that playtest the RPG content I send through my Patreon, so they let me know their thoughts after they play something I've created.

Do you like to work alone or as part of a team? Co-designers, artists, etc.?
I haven't yet designed as part of a team. But a friend of mine and I have bounced off a couple ideas to each other about games we could develop, and I think with the right person, design collaboration could work out very well.

What do you feel is your biggest challenge as a game designer?
Finding the right artwork. I'm not the best graphic designer. My visual ideas certainly evoke something specific, but I'm a better manipulator than I am a straight up creator in the visual realm.

If you could design a game within any IP, what would it be?
Tron. Hands down, Tron. All day, Tron. End of line.

What do you wish someone had told you a long time ago about designing games?
It's going to take you much longer than you think to get your game to the point where you think it's good enough to publish. Don't worry, that's all part of it.

What advice would you like to share about designing games?
If you have an idea, WRITE IT DOWN, as soon as possible. I can't tell you the number of ideas I've lost to the ether simply because I didn't take 30 seconds to record the idea. You never know when an idea will develop into something fun, but you gotta get it down on paper, because you WILL NOT remember it like you think you will.

Then, set aside time every week to revisit each idea, and see if you can develop it. Some ideas may sit dormant for months before your mind fires on something that will work for it, but the wait is worth it. Write your ideas down.

Would you like to tell my readers what games you're working on and how far along they are?
Currently looking for a publisher I have: The Cutting Room Floor: The Moviebuilding Game
I'm planning to crowdfund: New Arrivals (RPG)
Roasters (RPG)
The Quint RPG System

Games I feel are in the final development and tweaking stage are: The Quint RPG System
Games that I'm playtesting are: The Cutting Room Floor
Games that are in the early stages of development and beta testing are: We're Here to Learn (RPG)
Untitled card-based RPG system
Untitled Wedding DJ RPG (no, I'm not kidding)

And games that are still in the very early idea phase are: Shrubbery!
Crowded Elevators
Dodge Ball World Tournament
Public Transit
Bumpkin Abduction
Barbecue Battalion
Waking Up Wanted (RPG)
What is Grandpa Doing? (RPG)
Nanny, Inc. (RPG)
The Slow Season (RPG)

Are you a member of any Facebook or other design groups? (Game Maker’s Lab, Card and Board Game Developers Guild, etc.)
Board Game Design Lab Community, Card & Board Game Designers Guild, Board Game Reviewers & Media, St. Louis Board Game Design

And the oddly personal, but harmless stuff…
OK, enough of the game stuff, let's find out what really makes you tick! These are the questions that I’m sure are on everyone’s minds!

Star Trek or Star Wars? Coke or Pepsi? VHS or Betamax?
Star Wars when I want to be entertained. Star Trek when I want to be challenged. Coke. I don't have a Betamax player, so . . . yeah, VHS.

What hobbies do you have besides tabletop games?
I'm a musician and a singer, so I often have music going. I also love pistol shooting and performing stand-up and improv comedy.

What is something you learned in the last week?
If you're looking for some kind of randomizing method to explore a game mechanic, nearly everything you're looking for can be found either online or through a mobile app, even something as simple as a deck of poker cards that you can customize.

Favorite type of music? Books? Movies?
Music - I grew up on arena rock & metal, then grew into alternative, punk, and hip-hop. Books - These days I'm reading leadership & development books. Movies - Like Michael Bolton, I'm a major cinephile. I'll watch pretty much anything, but if I start watching a movie that's unfolding pretty predictably (such as a romantic comedy), then it better be unique enough for me to keep watching, otherwise, I'm out.

What was the last book you read?
Start With Why - Simon Sinek

Do you play any musical instruments?
Primarily, I'm a vocalist, but I do play a few instruments . . . trumpet, drums, a bit of piano/keyboard, a bit of guitar.

Tell us something about yourself that you think might surprise people.
I toured in a Trans-Siberian Orchestra tribute band as one of the feature vocalists.

Tell us about something crazy that you once did.
The first time I flew in a plane, I didn't land in it.
That's because I went skydiving.

Biggest accident that turned out awesome?
Poked myself in the eye at band rehearsal when I was in high school. What did I poke myself with? My thumb. What was I doing when it happened? Conducting the band. Scraped my cornea and had to wear an eye patch for a few days while it healed up. But it gave me a great story to tell. How it happened, to this day, I don't know, but it's given me tons of storytelling mileage.

Who is your idol?
I don't idolize other human beings. Once you strip away the enormity of their perceived greatness, you find they're just like you and the people you already know. Two of my biggest influences, though, are musicians Steve Taylor of Steve Taylor and the Perfect Foil and Eric Clayton of Saviour Machine. These are guys who pushed the boundaries of what many mainstream critics and fans found "acceptable" and created new pathways for others to follow in their wake.

What would you do if you had a time machine?
I would love to witness the 1980s again, but as an adult. I feel I was too young to fully appreciate the overt style.

Are you an extrovert or introvert?

Have any pets?
None at the moment.

When the next asteroid hits Earth, causing the Yellowstone caldera to explode, California to fall into the ocean, the sea levels to rise, and the next ice age to set in, what current games or other pastimes do you think (or hope) will survive into the next era of human civilization? What do you hope is underneath that asteroid to be wiped out of the human consciousness forever?
Man, this is one I can't answer. I'm adaptable, so I figure whatever survives I'll be good with, but if there's something I absolutely need to have, I figure out a way to reproduce it.

If you’d like to send a shout out to anyone, anyone at all, here’s your chance (I can’t guarantee they’ll read this though):
I want to thank Mike Brodeur of Miniature Market. A few years ago, while he was working for a different FLGS, he donated a bundle of board games for a silent auction my church was hosting, and I ended up going home with that bundle. That kickstarted my board game collection, and the rest is history.

Thanks for answering all my crazy questions!

Thank you for reading this People Behind the Meeples indie game designer interview! You can find all the interviews here: People Behind the Meeples and if you'd like to be featured yourself, you can fill out the questionnaire here: http://gjjgames.blogspot.com/p/game-designer-interview-questionnaire.html

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